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Cadets -- some of them teens -- are on patrol in Lodi

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Posted: Sunday, December 19, 2004 10:00 pm

Some haven't even graduated from high school yet, but Lodi police cadets are now patrolling the streets on their own, looking for parking violations and abandoned vehicles.

They don't get anything special when upset ticket recipients berate them, because it's part of the job -- the unpaid job.

The cadets hit the streets by themselves for the first time earlier this month and, so far, they've enjoyed it.

"It gives us a lot of insight into what to look for, and it gets our foot in the door," said Erika Urrea, who hopes to one day work for the Lodi Police Department.

So far, the department's nine cadets are doing well, and four or five more are going through the application process, said Sgt. Tod Patterson, who oversees the cadets.

"They've been very professional; they've helped out quite a bit," he said.

Urrea and fellow cadet Kyle Barrow were out patrolling Thursday night, picking up where parking enforcement officers left off. The parking officers usually work during the day and, until now, it was harder to monitor nocturnal parking.

Now, the cadets often work afternoons and into the nights, ticketing drivers who abuse disabled parking spaces or block alleys.

On Friday, Urrea and Barrow got in a marked van often used by volunteer Partners and left the parking lot of the Police Department.

They headed down Elm Street, then down an alley where they looked for vehicles parked over the white line, thus creating a potential hazard for fire trucks.

Within minutes, Urrea stopped the van. A small red car was not only parked well over the white line, but it was also parked on the wrong side of the street -- meaning that the driver had traveled the wrong direction in order to park.

The vehicle was owned by a driver's training school that had a sign atop the car.

As Barrow wrote a ticket, the driver emerged from a nearby house. She was not happy, but Barrow calmly finished the ticket and the two cadets were soon on their way.

That's how it usually goes, though the cadets have police radios and call for back-up officers if needed. After all, the cadets only carry pepper spray and haven't been through the police academy yet.

They've passed a background check, gone through about 60 hours of training, ridden along with officers and are now attending monthly training sessions. But they are also encouraged to ask for an officer.

On his first night of patrol, 17-year-old Thomas Holt did call for back-up, because someone in an alley got upset over a ticket. That was OK with Holt, who said he now has a better understanding of what's involved in police work.

The cadets are part of a program that was revamped this summer. Until then, Police Explorers between the ages of 14 and 19 rode along with officers.

But the program wasn't very productive, police officials said, so they decided to make some changes.

Now the cadets, who must be between the ages of 16 and 24, serve in a similar capacity to the Partners, who are retired.

Like Partners, cadets can give out tickets, tow cars and help control traffic at special events or accidents -- or "whatever we can do to help out," Urrea said.

After they get some more training, the cadets will be able to take "cold" reports, such as a lost cell phone. Rather than tie up an officer to write a report so the phone owner can get insurance reimbursement, the cadets will do the task.

"It clears the officer up to go to another call," Barrow said.

Both Barrow and Urrea hope to work with the police department in a few years, as does Holt, whose whole family works in law enforcement.

Urrea, through her current loss prevention job, has worked with a number of police departments. And, though she lives in Stockton, she wants to work in Lodi.

"The officers here are nicer," she said.

Some of the cadets are still finishing high school, and others are at San Joaquin Delta College's police academy. In between school and other jobs, they volunteer a minimum of 16 hours a month at the Police Department.

Sometimes the shifts are fairly quiet and they have no conflicts with ticketed drivers.

And sometimes the cadets find themselves in new situations, such as Thursday night when they became stand-in animal control officers. They caught a pit bull and tried unsuccessfully to find its owner, then went and picked up a kitten that was wandering in downtown Lodi.

For the cadets, it's all part of the job.

Contact reporter Layla Bohm at layla@lodinews.com.

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